New Books and a New Bookstore….

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It’s summer.  My blog posts have become sporadic, but there’s time to read my stack of unread New Yorkers and sit on the deck with an iced mocha.  The pages keep turning though: books for my middle grade book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, books about Emily Dickinson for a class I’m taking later this month, and the most fun reading – looking at new books for Inly’s library.  This morning, Mary and I met at school to experience Christmas in July by opening the boxes that have arrived over the past few weeks.  So many good ones, but two that I would encourage my colleagues in other school libraries and classrooms to consider adding to their collections:

Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel 

I love this book even though I’m not sure exactly who it’s for.  It’s a tribute to the world, to life itself. The book celebrates the glories of the natural world and, like poetry, encourages reflection.  It opens with an illustration of a seedling surrounded by mountains and the text reads: “Life begins small.”  On the next page there is an illustration of elephants gathered around a baby elephant, and it continues: “Even for the elephants. Then it grows.”  The message is one children have heard before, but the illustrations and words work together so beautifully that it manages to feel fresh.  It’s a book teachers could read at the start of a conversation about the life cycle. I would read it to a group of older students to show them that more words are not always better.  It would also be a lovely gift for a child (or adult) who needs a reminder that “it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen.”

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby and Mika Song

Six children, between kindergarten and fifth grade, get ready for a new school year. Through 24 free verse poems, we meet Ethan, Zach, Katie, Jackie, Carlos, and Mia as they share their excitement and worries. The book is divided into four sections: “The Night Before,” “In the Morning,” “At School,” and “After School” and each child has a poem in each section.  The kids are different in how they look and their anxieties about school.  For example, Katie is concerned that: “Miss Kring won’t be my teacher for second grade like I wanted. Instead I’ll have a new teacher, someone I don’t even know. The letter said his name is Mr. Patterson. Teachers at my school aren’t called Mr. Their names begin Miss or Mrs., like they’re supposed to.”  There are countless possibilities for using this book in a classroom: a read aloud on the first day, a starting point for writing poetry about first day jitters, and, because the kids here are so distinct, an introduction to inventing a character.  No classroom should be without this one!

During a visit to Newburyport earlier this week, I visited the Jabberwocky Bookshop.  It was a lovely surprise. Spacious and well-stocked, Jabberwocky is a must-visit for bookstore collectors.  It’s definitely a store I will visit again….

My personal reading has not gone as planned – but that’s okay. I read “on a plan” all school year so digressions from the “to read” pile are welcome. The other evening, reaching to pick up the next book on my summer list, I was instead drawn to Hisham Matar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, The Return.

Matar is the son of a well-known Libyan dissident who disappeared in 1990.  After many years away, he returned to Libya to learn the truth of what happened to his father and to reconnect with the place of his birth.  Moving between the present and the past, The Return is also a meditation on the passage of time and the story of a revolution.  I am so happy that the “reading god” reached down and put this one in my hands. In addition to teaching me about a part of the world I knew very little about, it is so beautiful that I find myself re-reading sentences on every page.  I’m leaving my next book choice to fate!

Happy Reading!

New Books!

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New books – two of the most beautiful words in the English language!

This one is amazing.  A Newbery contender perhaps?

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson will be released in early September, and I anticipate a waiting list by the end of the first day of school. Fans of Jamieson’s first middle grade graphic novel, Roller Girl, are going to love All’s Faire in Middle School.  At the center of the story is eleven-year-old Impy who is beginning 6th grade in a “real” school after being home schooled.  As Impy describes it herself, her life with her parents and younger brother is pretty “normal.”  There is one thing though that makes Impy’s family stand out: her family is part of the Florida Renaissance Faire.  In fact, her parents are both cast members during the weekend festivities, and Impy is looking forward to training to be a squire. She fits in perfectly at the Faire, but middle school is a different story.  The rules are different and not as clear.

During weekend performances on the Faire’s main street, Impy is comfortable asking visitors if they are “looking for victuals” and using phrases like “loggerheaded rump-fed giglet,” but trying to figure out what shoes she should wear to school is more challenging.  Of course, mistakes are made and there are consequences, but Impy and her family are memorable characters.

And there’s this…..

I read The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli and immediately started thinking of various ways to use this book in classes – and making a mental note about kids who will enjoy this fascinating story. It’s a picture book based on the life of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who spent years searching for a mythical civilization in the Amazon rain forest.  Born in 1867, Fawcett was born into an adventurous family, and from the beginning he was committed to learning to surviving in the jungle. He took numerous trips deep into South America where, Pizzoli writes, Fawcett “heard stories from locals that gave him clues to the possible location of the lost city of Z, and he became obsessed.”  Ultimately, Fawcett disappeared during one of his explorations, but his story caught the imagination of people then and now.  Pizzoli writes: “It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.”

In fact, this book reminded me of a bestselling book from a few years ago, The Lost City of Z: A Deadly Tale of Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.

Speaking of new books…

I went book shopping today with a 5th grade Inly student. Our mission: her summer reading plan.  It was a successful trip:

Based on her interests and Inly’s summer reading list, here are the books she is going to read this summer:

Happy Reading!

The View from the Roof…

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I had a few thoughts about this week’s post, but then a student sent me this picture from his travels in Germany:

In response to my comment about his beautiful picture, the student wrote: “Feel free to use in your blog.  Rooftops are a great theme with lots of meaning!”  Clearly, he needs a break from my class where we search for meaning in everything.  But he has a point. Rooftops are a good place to take a look around.

Here are seven books that encourage us to get up a little higher, look down, and realize (in the words of Hamilton) “how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell  (Rundell’s middle grade novel is a few years old, but the rooftop scenes are still vivid in my mind.  The story centers on a young girl named Sophie – who everyone thinks is an orphan who survived in a cello case during a shipwreck that claimed the life of Sophie’s mother. Convinced her mother may have lived, Sophie goes to Paris to find her. It’s in Paris that she meets Matteo and his friends who live high above the city.  This is a magical novel – best read at night, perhaps overlooking the twinkling lights of a city!)

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather (A fun and quirky book – that “flew” under the radar!  A pigeon’s-eye view of famous structures around the world. An excellent introduction to architecture.)

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein (the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Obviously, the book has a special poignancy because of what happened to the Towers in 2001, but that adds to the power of the book; it becomes a tribute not only to Petit’s incredible feat, but also to the lives lost that day.)

Albert by Donna Jo Napoli (This picture book is not technically a rooftop story. Albert lives in a tall apartment building, but the action takes place outside of Albert’s window. Published in 2005, Albert is about a man who is a bit of a recluse.  He stays in his apartment and only puts his hand outside to check the weather.  It’s never a good day to go out.  But when a cardinal decides to build a nest in Albert’s outstretched hand, Albert is forced to watch the life happening on the streets below.  This is kind of a quirky story, but it’s one I find myself returning to again and again – it’s a perfect book to introduce symbolism to young readers.)

Home by Jeannie Baker (I have used Jeannie Baker’s books, Home and Window, every year since I started teaching – with elementary age students and middle school students.  Like the viewpoint in Albert, we have window views rather than rooftops, but the shift in perspective is equally affecting. Baker’s wordless picture books are powerful warnings about the impact we have on our environment.  Teachers – to spark a discussion (with older students) about overdevelopment and our changing communities, pair Home with The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

ABC: Alphabet From the Sky by Benedikt Gross (As it turns out, if you look down, the alphabet is hiding in plain site!)

The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest by Steve Jenkins (Everything Steve Jenkins done is amazing, but this is my favorite of his cut-paper collage works. The closest many of us will get to views from the top of Mount Everest!)

I didn’t get a rooftop view of Scituate’s new library, but the view from the inside is lovely.  The library was closed for nearly two years for major renovations.  It was worth the wait….

Happy Reading!



Summer Reading: Part Four

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My final summer reading list is for middle school readers, the kids “in between” middle grade and young adult books. The eight books listed below include characters and dialogue unique to the experience of kids ages 12 to 14.

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al-Mansour  (A repeat from last year’s list, but one students always enjoy.  A timely and inspiring novel – based on an excellent movie called Wadjda.  The story of a young girl who wants a bicycle.  Simple enough, right? But she lives in Saudi Arabia where it’s considered improper for a girl to ride a bike.  It would be fun to read the book and then have a movie night!)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (I included this book on my last post. It’s on my list of books for middle grade readers, and I would recommend it to adults as well. This is a story about family and friends. A common theme in an uncommonly memorable book.)

Posted by John David Anderson (The perfect book for social media enthusiasts.  After cell phones are banned at school, kids begin leaving messages on Post-it notes which, because they are displayed for all to see, are often more hurtful.)

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Pearsall’s novel was published in 2015, and it’s become one of the books I hand to middle school students who are struggling to find a good book – one they will want to keep reading.  Pearsall’s novel hasn’t failed me yet!  Set in 1963, The Seventh Most Important Thing is the story of Arthur, a 13-year-old boy, who learns seven important lessons while helping a local “junk man” with his artistic masterpiece.)

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby  (The first installment of a new series, set in an alternative New York City)

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (500 pages of high fantasy and imaginative word play.  Link to the Guardian’s glowing review:

Refugee by Alan Gratz (This book will be published on July 25, but I recommended it to several of our students as an August read. Three young refugees from three different times and places: Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo. It’s on my August list!)

Literally by Lucy Keating (Maybe an unexpected choice for this list.  Literally is a smart beach book that plays with the conventions of the young adult romance.)

To prepare Inly’s summer reading list, I read lots of novels and early chapter books.  After the list was distributed, what I most craved was ….a picture book!  I looked for something new and beautiful, a book that stands out on the shelf, and here it is:

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is magical from the end pages to the final scene. Erin, the little girl at the center of the story, lives in an idyllic seaside town with her “mum” and her dog, Archie. Erin desperately wants to “go out to sea,” but she can’t because of a scary black rock.  Everyone in town warns her to stay away from the rock which, naturally, makes Erin even more curious.  Ultimately, she finds a way to learn the truth, and it turns out to be quite lovely. School ended a few days ago, and I’m already planning to make The Secret of Black Rock our first read aloud in September!

During the last couple weeks of school, there are lots of events involving singing and speeches and ceremonies.  But the nicest hour, in my opinion, is the quiet that comes over the campus during Drop Everything and Read.  While everyone was reading, I walked around the silent campus and found readers on couches, under counters, and many other creative spaces…

Happy Reading!

Happy Summer!

Summer Reading: Part Three

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Today’s list: middle grade novels.  There are so many good ones – way too many to list here.  So like the first two lists (Summer Reading: Parts One and Two), I will stick to the new books.  Holes, Charlotte’s Web, and Bud, Not Buddy are on the list (along with many other classic children’s novels) along with these twenty recently published stories…..

For Kids Between the Ages of 8 and 12.  Great for the whole family as an evening read-aloud or on a road trip…

A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold (A story about a boy and his skunk, but Bat, the main character of this first installment in a new series is on the autism spectrum. It’s refreshing to read about a character who deals with something underrepresented in children’s books with a plot that is the star of the show!)

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg (You can’t help but think about Laura Ingalls Wilder when you read this book. The setting is 1930s Alaska, but the challenges of life on the frontier and the themes of family and resilience are similar.)

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres (a debut novel about a 7th grade girl whose family owns a food truck)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton (Henry likes to draw on his bedroom door. Everything is great until the dragon he draws comes to life!)

Lotteries Plus One by Emma Donoghue (Two couples with seven kids between them. All is going well until Grumps moves in. He’s doesn’t approve of what he sees: two same sex couples, a diverse group of kids, homeschooling. A fun family adventure.)

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron (an old-fashioned fantasy that takes place in a castle in the English countryside)

Jack and the Geniuses by Bill Nye (Bill Nye the Science Guy has a new series! Gadgets and technology and genius kids working in a lab)

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (A story based on the author’s story of growing up in New York as a young immigrant in the 1960s.  Good story in the Washington Post about the author. Link:

Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs (Gibbs is my go-to author for reluctant readers.  They may check the first one out reluctantly, but they quickly return for the next book.)

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (A lovely and timely book about a Muslim girl growing up and navigating all of the things that come along with being 13: family, friends, faith, tradition.  What I loved about this book is that it deals with universal themes of growing up, and yet is true to Amina’s experience as a young Muslim girl living in the 21st century.)

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (If you know a child who loves being on stage, this is the absolute best summer read for them. A celebration of theater!)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (I read this over the weekend and loved it.  Clayton Byrd loves his grandfather, a blues musician who has taught his young grandson to play the harmonica. When his grandfather dies, Clayton goes off on his own to search for the members of his grandfather’s blues band. This is the book I would recommend to a child who loves music.)

And for older readers, ages 10 and over…

Funny Girl. Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (short stories by 25 female writers)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (one of the most moving books – for any age – that I’ve read this year.)

Armstrong and Charlie by Steven Frank (Two boys living in Los Angeles in the 1970s)

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy King (A friendship tale with an environmental message – and a touch of magical realism!)

Rooting for Rafael Rosales by Kurtis Scaletta

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (by the author of Wolf Hollow– this one is part of my summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset.)

Bronze and the Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

One other note…..

I read over the weekend that there’s going to be a movie based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s New York Times Modern Love column about her husband.  Her essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband, is being developed by Universal.

Summer Reading: Part Two


Today’s summer reading list is for emerging readers, kids who begin asking for chapter books . New readers are enthusiastic, and their book list is a long one, including classics like Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker.  Those books are well known, but there are many recently published books for the new reader in your life.  Here are ten books to “check out” this summer:

Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan (celebrating the joys and possibilities of a cardboard box – and making new friends)

The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green (this quickly became one of the most popular series in our school library. Many of the  first and second graders traded them, talked about them, and asked to “be first” when there was a new one!)

DATA series by Ada Hopper (I’m thinking of a second grade boy who raced through these as fast as he could.  We would leave the “next book” on our desk in the morning so he could come in to return the one he read the night before – and start reading)

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami (a stand-alone early chapter book and one of my favorite books of the year – a great book to teach that small actions can make a big difference)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau (two rats want to show their dad how tough they are, but things don’t go according to plan.  Sequel will be out in September)

The Claude books by Alex T. Smith (I didn’t do enough to push Claude this year, but will fix that in September.  A beret-wearing dog’s adventures with his friend Sir Bobblysock who is, actually, a sock.)

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder (the episodic adventures of two brothers)

Hilo series by Judd Winnick (a really popular series in our library – a story of bravery and robots!)

And two books from our nonfiction list:

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins (the life of a young girl who grew up to be a NASA software engineer for Project Apollo)

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin (All of Chin’s nature books are inspiring and beautiful. This one is an introduction to coral reefs.)

One more book that didn’t make it onto Inly’s list….

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith is one of those books that a child will probably not find on their own, but will be grateful if you lead them to it. The story of a medieval girl who learns about falconry from her father, the book follows them training a hawk for a hunt and includes sidebars with interesting facts. For example, the hawks wear bells on their legs so the falconer can hear them after they’ve caught their prey.  Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are stunning and realistic, but luckily they spare the viewer any “too realistic” views.   I would recommend it to readers between the ages of 7 and 12.

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading: Part One

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On this rainy and chilly day, it’s a bit challenging to put myself in the summer reading state of mind, but the calendar says it is Memorial Day Weekend so it’s time for a list of books to look out for this summer…

First, check out this student’s fabulous dress –

An on-line search revealed the source of Leo Lionni-themed clothing – Uniqlo, but it doesn’t look like they are available anymore.

Today’s list is for young children, between the ages of 3 and 7.  These are the books to reach for when you’re looking for a fun read-aloud or new books to freshen up your picture book collection.  Inly’s summer reading list includes both classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Blueberries for Sal along with recently published books.  Below are the new books  – listed (approximately) from books for the youngest listeners to those a bit older…

Rescue Squad No. 9 by Mike Austin (a high-energy and colorful book for young fans of things that go!)

Places To Be by Mac Barnett (a warm and cozy book)

Round by Joyce Sidman (a magical celebration of round things)

Egg by Kevin Henkes (another Henkes masterpiece)

A Good Day for a Hat by T. Nat Fuller  (a crowd-pleaser – really funny!)

Motor Miles by John Burningham (Burningham is a picture book master who is sometimes overlooked)

Rain by Sam Usher (a story about a boy and his grandfather that turns a rainy day into magic)

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (the perfect way to end the day)

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (basically, this is a really cute book – nothing wrong with that!)

Escargot by Dashka Slater (best read in a French accent!)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (an inspiring story of courage)

Mother Bruce and Hotel Bruce by Ryan (truly hilarious and witty books)

A Cat Named Swan by Hollie Hobbie (an abandoned kitten finds a home.  A familiar story, beautifully done.)

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner (girl obsessed with gorillas. A must-read)

And in election news:

Inly’s lower elementary levels voted on their favorite series of the year.  The finalists, based on circulation, were: Hilo by Judd Winnick, The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green, The Treehouse Books by Andy Griffith, and The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer.

The winner was…..